The Water Ghost Of Harrowby Hall





BY JOHN KENDRICK BANGS





The trouble with Harrowby Hall was that it was haunted, and, what was

worse, the ghost did not content itself with merely appearing at the

bedside of the afflicted person who saw it, but persisted in remaining

there for one mortal hour before it would disappear.



It never appeared except on Christmas Eve, and then as the clock was

striking twelve, in which respect alone was it lacking in that

originality which in these days is a sine qua non of success in

spectral life. The owners of Harrowby Hall had done their utmost to rid

themselves of the damp and dewy lady who rose up out of the best bedroom

floor at midnight, but without avail. They had tried stopping the clock,

so that the ghost would not know when it was midnight; but she made her

appearance just the same, with that fearful miasmatic personality of

hers, and there she would stand until everything about her was

thoroughly saturated.



Then the owners of Harrowby Hall caulked up every crack in the floor

with the very best quality of hemp, and over this were placed layers of

tar and canvas; the walls were made waterproof, and the doors and

windows likewise, the proprietors having conceived the notion that the

unexorcised lady would find it difficult to leak into the room after

these precautions had been taken; but even this did not suffice. The

following Christmas Eve she appeared as promptly as before, and

frightened the occupant of the room quite out of his senses by sitting

down alongside of him and gazing with her cavernous blue eyes into his;

and he noticed, too, that in her long, aqueously bony fingers bits of

dripping seaweed were entwined, the ends hanging down, and these ends

she drew across his forehead until he became like one insane. And then

he swooned away, and was found unconscious in his bed the next morning

by his host, simply saturated with sea-water and fright, from the

combined effects of which he never recovered, dying four years later of

pneumonia and nervous prostration at the age of seventy-eight.



The next year the master of Harrowby Hall decided not to have the best

spare bedroom opened at all, thinking that perhaps the ghost's thirst

for making herself disagreeable would be satisfied by haunting the

furniture, but the plan was as unavailing as the many that had preceded

it.



The ghost appeared as usual in the room--that is, it was supposed she

did, for the hangings were dripping wet the next morning, and in the

parlor below the haunted room a great damp spot appeared on the

ceiling. Finding no one there, she immediately set out to learn the

reason why, and she chose none other to haunt than the owner of the

Harrowby himself. She found him in his own cosey room drinking

whiskey--whiskey undiluted--and felicitating himself upon having foiled

her ghost-ship, when all of a sudden the curl went out of his hair, his

whiskey bottle filled and overflowed, and he was himself in a condition

similar to that of a man who has fallen into a water-butt. When he

recovered from the shock, which was a painful one, he saw before him the

lady of the cavernous eyes and seaweed fingers. The sight was so

unexpected and so terrifying that he fainted, but immediately came to,

because of the vast amount of water in his hair, which, trickling down

over his face, restored his consciousness.



Now it so happened that the master of Harrowby was a brave man, and

while he was not particularly fond of interviewing ghosts, especially

such quenching ghosts as the one before him, he was not to be daunted by

an apparition. He had paid the lady the compliment of fainting from the

effects of his first surprise, and now that he had come to he intended

to find out a few things he felt he had a right to know. He would have

liked to put on a dry suit of clothes first, but the apparition declined

to leave him for an instant until her hour was up, and he was forced to

deny himself that pleasure. Every time he would move she would follow

him, with the result that everything she came in contact with got a

ducking. In an effort to warm himself up he approached the fire, an

unfortunate move as it turned out, because it brought the ghost directly

over the fire, which immediately was extinguished. The whiskey became

utterly valueless as a comforter to his chilled system, because it was

by this time diluted to a proportion of ninety per cent of water. The

only thing he could do to ward off the evil effects of his encounter he

did, and that was to swallow ten two-grain quinine pills, which he

managed to put into his mouth before the ghost had time to interfere.

Having done this, he turned with some asperity to the ghost, and said:



"Far be it from me to be impolite to a woman, madam, but I'm hanged if

it wouldn't please me better if you'd stop these infernal visits of

yours to this house. Go sit out on the lake, if you like that sort of

thing; soak the water-butt, if you wish; but do not, I implore you, come

into a gentleman's house and saturate him and his possessions in this

way. It is damned disagreeable."



"Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe," said the ghost, in a gurgling voice, "you

don't know what you are talking about."



"Madam," returned the unhappy householder, "I wish that remark were

strictly truthful. I was talking about you. It would be shillings and

pence--nay, pounds, in my pocket, madam, if I did not know you."



"That is a bit of specious nonsense," returned the ghost, throwing a

quart of indignation into the face of the master of Harrowby. "It may

rank high as repartee, but as a comment upon my statement that you do

not know what you are talking about, it savors of irrelevant

impertinence. You do not know that I am compelled to haunt this place

year after year by inexorable fate. It is no pleasure to me to enter

this house, and ruin and mildew everything I touch. I never aspired to

be a shower-bath, but it is my doom. Do you know who I am?"



"No, I don't," returned the master of Harrowby. "I should say you were

the Lady of the Lake, or Little Sallie Waters."



"You are a witty man for your years," said the ghost.



"Well, my humor is drier than yours ever will be," returned the master.



"No doubt. I'm never dry. I am the Water Ghost of Harrowby Hall, and

dryness is a quality entirely beyond my wildest hope. I have been the

incumbent of this highly unpleasant office for two hundred years

to-night."



"How the deuce did you ever come to get elected?" asked the master.



"Through a suicide," replied the specter. "I am the ghost of that fair

maiden whose picture hangs over the mantelpiece in the drawing-room. I

should have been your great-great-great-great-great-aunt if I had lived,

Henry Hartwick Oglethorpe, for I was the own sister of your

great-great-great-great-grandfather."



"But what induced you to get this house into such a predicament?"



"I was not to blame, sir," returned the lady. "It was my father's fault.

He it was who built Harrowby Hall, and the haunted chamber was to have

been mine. My father had it furnished in pink and yellow, knowing well

that blue and gray formed the only combination of color I could

tolerate. He did it merely to spite me, and, with what I deem a proper

spirit, I declined to live in the room; whereupon my father said I could

live there or on the lawn, he didn't care which. That night I ran from

the house and jumped over the cliff into the sea."



"That was rash," said the master of Harrowby.



"So I've heard," returned the ghost. "If I had known what the

consequences were to be I should not have jumped; but I really never

realized what I was doing until after I was drowned. I had been drowned

a week when a sea-nymph came to me and informed me that I was to be one

of her followers forever afterwards, adding that it should be my doom to

haunt Harrowby Hall for one hour every Christmas Eve throughout the rest

of eternity. I was to haunt that room on such Christmas Eves as I found

it inhabited; and if it should turn out not to be inhabited, I was and

am to spend the allotted hour with the head of the house."



"I'll sell the place."



"That you cannot do, for it is also required of me that I shall appear

as the deeds are to be delivered to any purchaser, and divulge to him

the awful secret of the house."



"Do you mean to tell me that on every Christmas Eve that I don't happen

to have somebody in that guest-chamber, you are going to haunt me

wherever I may be, ruining my whiskey, taking all the curl out of my

hair, extinguishing my fire, and soaking me through to the skin?"

demanded the master.



"You have stated the case, Oglethorpe. And what is more," said the water

ghost, "it doesn't make the slightest difference where you are, if I

find that room empty, wherever you may be I shall douse you with my

spectral pres----"



Here the clock struck one, and immediately the apparition faded away. It

was perhaps more of a trickle than a fade, but as a disappearance it was

complete.



"By St. George and his Dragon!" ejaculated the master of Harrowby,

wringing his hands. "It is guineas to hot-cross buns that next Christmas

there's an occupant of the spare room, or I spend the night in a

bathtub."



But the master of Harrowby would have lost his wager had there been

anyone there to take him up, for when Christmas Eve came again he was in

his grave, never having recovered from the cold contracted that awful

night. Harrowby Hall was closed, and the heir to the estate was in

London, where to him in his chambers came the same experience that his

father had gone through, saving only that, being younger and stronger,

he survived the shock. Everything in his rooms was ruined--his clocks

were rusted in the works; a fine collection of water-color drawings was

entirely obliterated by the onslaught of the water ghost; and what was

worse, the apartments below his were drenched with the water soaking

through the floors, a damage for which he was compelled to pay, and

which resulted in his being requested by his landlady to vacate the

premises immediately.



The story of the visitation inflicted upon his family had gone abroad,

and no one could be got to invite him out to any function save afternoon

teas and receptions. Fathers of daughters declined to permit him to

remain in their houses later than eight o'clock at night, not knowing

but that some emergency might arise in the supernatural world which

would require the unexpected appearance of the water ghost in this on

nights other than Christmas Eve, and before the mystic hour when weary

churchyards, ignoring the rules which are supposed to govern polite

society, begin to yawn. Nor would the maids themselves have aught to do

with him, fearing the destruction by the sudden incursion of aqueous

femininity of the costumes which they held most dear.



So the heir of Harrowby Hall resolved, as his ancestors for several

generations before him had resolved, that something must be done. His

first thought was to make one of his servants occupy the haunted room at

the crucial moment; but in this he failed, because the servants

themselves knew the history of that room and rebelled. None of his

friends would consent to sacrifice their personal comfort to his, nor

was there to be found in all England a man so poor as to be willing to

occupy the doomed chamber on Christmas Eve for pay.



Then the thought came to the heir to have the fireplace in the room

enlarged, so that he might evaporate the ghost at its first appearance,

and he was felicitating himself upon the ingenuity of his plan, when he

remembered what his father had told him--how that no fire could

withstand the lady's extremely contagious dampness. And then he

bethought him of steam-pipes. These, he remembered, could lie hundreds

of feet deep in water, and still retain sufficient heat to drive the

water away in vapor; and as a result of this thought the haunted room

was heated by steam to a withering degree, and the heir for six months

attended daily the Turkish baths, so that when Christmas Eve came he

could himself withstand the awful temperature of the room.



The scheme was only partially successful. The water ghost appeared at

the specified time, and found the heir of Harrowby prepared; but hot as

the room was, it shortened her visit by no more than five minutes in the

hour, during which time the nervous system of the young master was

well-nigh shattered, and the room itself was cracked and warped to an

extent which required the outlay of a large sum of money to remedy. And

worse than this, as the last drop of the water ghost was slowly

sizzling itself out on the floor, she whispered to her would-be

conqueror that his scheme would avail him nothing, because there was

still water in great plenty where she came from, and that next year

would find her rehabilitated and as exasperatingly saturating as ever.



It was then that the natural action of the mind, in going from one

extreme to the other, suggested to the ingenious heir of Harrowby the

means by which the water ghost was ultimately conquered, and happiness

once more came within the grasp of the house of Oglethorpe.



The heir provided himself with a warm suit of fur under-clothing.

Donning this with the furry side in, he placed over it a rubber garment,

tight-fitting, which he wore just as a woman wears a jersey. On top of

this he placed another set of under-clothing, this suit made of wool,

and over this was a second rubber garment like the first. Upon his head

he placed a light and comfortable diving helmet, and so clad, on the

following Christmas Eve he awaited the coming of his tormentor.



It was a bitterly cold night that brought to a close this twenty-fourth

day of December. The air outside was still, but the temperature was

below zero. Within all was quiet, the servants of Harrowby Hall awaiting

with beating hearts the outcome of their master's campaign against his

supernatural visitor.



The master himself was lying on the bed in the haunted room, clad as

has already been indicated, and then----



The clock clanged out the hour of twelve.



There was a sudden banging of doors, a blast of cold air swept through

the halls, the door leading into the haunted chamber flew open, a splash

was heard, and the water ghost was seen standing at the side of the heir

of Harrowby, from whose outer dress there streamed rivulets of water,

but whose own person deep down under the various garments he wore was as

dry and as warm as he could have wished.



"Ha!" said the young master of Harrowby. "I'm glad to see you."



"You are the most original man I've met, if that is true," returned the

ghost. "May I ask where did you get that hat?"



"Certainly, madam," returned the master, courteously. "It is a little

portable observatory I had made for just such emergencies as this. But,

tell me, is it true that you are doomed to follow me about for one

mortal hour--to stand where I stand, to sit where I sit?"



"That is my delectable fate," returned the lady.



"We'll go out on the lake," said the master, starting up.



"You can't get rid of me that way," returned the ghost. "The water won't

swallow me up; in fact, it will just add to my present bulk."



"Nevertheless," said the master, firmly, "we will go out on the lake."



"But, my dear sir," returned the ghost, with a pale reluctance, "it is

fearfully cold out there. You will be frozen hard before you've been out

ten minutes."



"Oh no, I'll not," replied the master. "I am very warmly dressed. Come!"

This last in a tone of command that made the ghost ripple.



And they started.



They had not gone far before the water ghost showed signs of distress.



"You walk too slowly," she said. "I am nearly frozen. My knees are so

stiff now I can hardly move. I beseech you to accelerate your step."



"I should like to oblige a lady," returned the master, courteously, "but

my clothes are rather heavy, and a hundred yards an hour is about my

speed. Indeed, I think we would better sit down here on this snowdrift,

and talk matters over."



"Do not! Do not do so, I beg!" cried the ghost. "Let me move on. I feel

myself growing rigid as it is. If we stop here, I shall be frozen

stiff."



"That, madam," said the master slowly, and seating himself on an

ice-cake--"that is why I have brought you here. We have been on this

spot just ten minutes; we have fifty more. Take your time about it,

madam, but freeze, that is all I ask of you."



"I cannot move my right leg now," cried the ghost, in despair, "and my

overskirt is a solid sheet of ice. Oh, good, kind Mr. Oglethorpe, light

a fire, and let me go free from these icy fetters."



"Never, madam. It cannot be. I have you at last."



"Alas!" cried the ghost, a tear trickling down her frozen cheek. "Help

me, I beg. I congeal!"



"Congeal, madam, congeal!" returned Oglethorpe, coldly. "You have

drenched me and mine for two hundred and three years, madam. To-night

you have had your last drench."



"Ah, but I shall thaw out again, and then you'll see. Instead of the

comfortably tepid, genial ghost I have been in my past, sir, I shall be

iced-water," cried the lady, threateningly.



"No, you won't, either," returned Oglethorpe; "for when you are frozen

quite stiff, I shall send you to a cold-storage warehouse, and there

shall you remain an icy work of art forever more."



"But warehouses burn."



"So they do, but this warehouse cannot burn. It is made of asbestos and

surrounding it are fireproof walls, and within those walls the

temperature is now and shall forever be 416 degrees below the zero

point; low enough to make an icicle of any flame in this world--or the

next," the master added, with an ill-suppressed chuckle.



"For the last time let me beseech you. I would go on my knees to you,

Oglethorpe, were they not already frozen. I beg of you do not doo----"



Here even the words froze on the water-ghost's lips and the clock struck

one. There was a momentary tremor throughout the ice-bound form, and the

moon, coming out from behind a cloud, shone down on the rigid figure of

a beautiful woman sculptured in clear, transparent ice. There stood the

ghost of Harrowby Hall, conquered by the cold, a prisoner for all time.



The heir of Harrowby had won at last, and to-day in a large storage

house in London stands the frigid form of one who will never again flood

the house of Oglethorpe with woe and sea-water.



As for the heir of Harrowby, his success in coping with a ghost has made

him famous, a fame that still lingers about him, although his victory

took place some twenty years ago; and so far from being unpopular with

the fair sex, as he was when we first knew him, he has not only been

married twice, but is to lead a third bride to the altar before the year

is out.





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